Tea Party leaders in Montgomery County are celebrating a legal victory with the announcement that Adrian Heath, who many believe was unjustly imprisoned for illegal voting, has been granted parole and will be released soon.
While researching abuse in local government, Heath became frustrated with the rent-a-voter scheme, where developers hire voters to temporarily live in trailers set up in districts intentionally drawn to contain no voters. The temporary rent-a-voters then pass millions of dollars in taxes and bond debt. Technically, the rent-a-voter scheme is legal, but many believe it is taxation without representation.
In 2012 Heath and nine other conservative activists set their sights on The Woodlands Road Utility District (RUD) 1, a district gerrymandered to include only two voters, which was levying billions of dollars in taxes on local businesses. After consulting with the Secretary of State’s office, which told them what they were doing was legal, the activists took up residence in a Residence Inn in the district and registered to vote there. Then, they voted themselves in as the board of directors with the intent of ending the taxation.
In the aftermath, the election results were challenged and their votes were deemed invalid by a visiting judge. The case should have ended there. The local district attorney did not believe criminal activity was involved and declined to prosecute Heath and the others in light of Secretary of State Election Law opinion GSC-1, which states that, “the presumption is in favor of the voter’s own assessment of the facts and his or her intent.”
However, then-State Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) – well known for his hatred of the Tea Party in his district, and a major recipient of campaign contributions from developers connected to the RUD – decided to get involved and pressured the state to prosecute the activists for illegal voting.
After a protracted legal battle, only Heath and one other voter were convicted out of the ten. An appeals court overturned the other man’s conviction, but Heath was sentenced to three years in prison which he began serving in February 2016.
Heath received an outpouring of local support, with many community leaders and elected officials sending letters to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles asking for him to be released.
In an unprecedented move, Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderson sent a letter to the parole board, saying Heath, “has close family ties in Montgomery County, has demonstrated that he does respect the rule of law, and, most importantly, consulted with the State regulatory agency that provides oversight for voter laws and acted upon the advice given him, however poor or incorrect that advice may have been.”
The sheriff concluded, “It is with the interest of justice that I pray you consider and grant Mr. Adrian Heath parole for his offense of illegal voting committed against the State of Texas.”
State Rep. Mark Keough (R-The Woodlands) also sent a letter on Heath’s behalf, stating:
“He has been an example to others while in TDC, has an incredible support system in this home community of both friends and family. He is anxious to get back to a productive and active life… Based upon my observations of his progress, I humbly ask that you give him a favorable hearing and grant him parole at the earliest possible date.”
Heath was granted parole on July 17. He is scheduled to be released on August 2.